With thousands of students taking standardized admission tests, it stands to reason that a variety of physical, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, or learning disabilities will exist among them. What seems like a common undertaking — test preparation and test day — may take on a whole new perspective to the child who is blind, hyperactive, or overcome by anxiety. For many, the biggest hurdle is the test booklet and the answer sheet. For others, it may be the seating arrangements, the time limitations, or the distraction of others around them.
If your child struggles with testing due to a disability, it may help you to know that special accommodations can be made to ensure your child has a fair opportunity to do well on test day. The testing agency will require documentation, so you may need to help your child facilitate the request. Accommodations can be made for the SAT, PSAT, AP exams, and the ACT.
Parental test prep: be your child's advocate
You are your child's best advocate when it comes to requesting fair access to testing. Don't hesitate to be assertive on your child's behalf — the offices of the College Board aren't the first to hear from parents who only want their children to have the same opportunities as everyone else. In recent years, parents of disabled students have swayed schools to provide special education services to those who need it, and have driven efforts that resulted in legislation mandating that all children, including those with disabilities, have the right to a free and appropriate education.
In fact, parent advocacy has brought about federal laws that guarantee students with disabilities the same access to college as all students, as well as the right to reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. A greater number of disabled students than ever now sit for pre-admission tests and get into college, allowing them the opportunity to attain more education and get further in life — an accomplishment that wasn't always in reach for children who could not be as successful in traditional learning and testing environments.
Get your paperwork turned in
If your child has a disability, work with school counselors, teachers, and teacher consultants to ensure that your requests for accommodations are submitted completely and on time as part of your test prep plan. Your child's guidance counselor is particularly important, since he or she has all the information and forms necessary to initiate the process. They can also advise you as to which forms you are required to sign for special accommodations on your child's behalf.
Along with these forms, a School Certification must be completed by the appropriate school official and then be submitted to the College Board's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) or the ACT office. The earlier you can get this done, the better — materials must arrive at the offices no later than the published registration deadlines. Submitting forms early ensures that your child's eligibility processing will be completed before the test date.
Test dates are the same for everyone, but there are some additional deadlines for the eligibility paperwork, so make sure you and your child get them all on the calendar as part of your test preparation. Test dates and documentation deadlines for the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams can be found at www.collegeboard.com/ssd/student/time.html. For the ACT, documentation needs to be in by the test registration deadline, but since it requires additional review to get approval for accommodations, the earlier your child's request gets in, the better.
Arrange for special accommodations
There are a variety of disabilities and conditions for which reasonable accommodations are allowed. In general, eligible disabilities and conditions include:
- Blindness or vision problems
- Deafness or hearing problems
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Certain medical conditions
- Physical disabilities
In many cases, information about your child's disability must be provided by a qualified diagnostician, such as a psychologist, neuropsychologist, medical doctor, or psychiatrist. They need to submit their name, title, and professional credentials, as well as verification that your child has a disability that interferes with his or her capacity to complete admission testing under normal conditions. Along with this documentation and all of the required signatures, your request needs to include the proposed test date, the type of accommodation you're requesting, and the name of an alternative test administrator if you are requesting one.
Research eligibility for accommodations as part of test prep plan
Keep in mind that just because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees disabled people the right to reasonable accommodation, it doesn't mean that if your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan in school, he or she is automatically eligible for special testing accommodations. Your child has to meet the eligibility requirements of the testing agency and they may differ from those of your child's school.
Your school counselor should be able to provide you with information about eligibility and documentation requirements, as well as how to request special accommodations and what types of accommodations can be made. You can also check requirements for the SAT, PSAT and AP exams at www.collegeboard.com/disable/students/html/indx000.html or for the ACT at www.act.org/aap/disab/policy.html.